The hand on my shoulder


Ten years ago yesterday, an amazing and totally irreplaceable man left my life and passed into the presence of his Saviour. The last words I heard my dad say were these: “All I want to do is to be with Jesus.” Colin Campbell came to Christ as a boy in the dark days of the Depression through the preaching of Plymouth Brethren street evangelists in the awful slums of Glasgow in which he was raised. The street preachers went out and preached the Gospel to the tenement buildings the poorest people lived in, in the hope that some inside would listen. Sitting at the window several floors up, a teenaged boy heard the Gospel, came down and received Christ as his Saviour on the street. He served the Lord faithfully and without wavering for over seventy years. At his funeral, my mum and my older brother noted how in the sixty-three years of his marriage, he was never heard to have uttered a profanity or raised his voice in anger.

Dad won a scholarship to a private school in Glasgow, but was mocked because he was poor, and never went back. Instead, he went to sea in the Merchant Marine at the age of 15. His father was blind and his mother was crippled. They had absolutely nothing. While he was at sea, he witnessed to his ship-mates and led at least one to Christ, a drunkard whose life was totally transformed and was still serving the Lord thirty-five years later. While he was on a long voyage, his father, whom he deeply loved, died of pneumonia. He never found out until he got home. At 19, with war approaching, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. When courting my mum, he would walk ten miles home to the base because there was no other way to get there.  On his first night in the barracks, where several dozen men slept in the same room, he followed his usual practice of kneeling at the side of his bed to pray.  One man swore and threw his shoe at him.  One of the biggest men in the room said if he ever did that to the boy again he would live to regret it.  Dad was unashamed of his Saviour and willing to pay the price.  And that's how he lived the rest of his life.

Dad was a self-made man. That’s why he decided to go to Canada, where a young man could make a future for himself regardless of class or education. He worked on the Avro Arrow, possibly Canada’s greatest technological accomplishment. He served in management capacity in various corporations, and started his own. He could do anything and fix anything, a skill he did not pass on to me.

And he served me as an elder in our church. One night years ago, I was going through a time of enormous discouragement. We had lost one-third of our members, and I thought the years of our labour had been in vain. Was God really still with me? He came alongside me, put his hand on my shoulder for a while, then told this simple story. On an RAF airbase somewhere in the middle east about ten years before I was born, he was about to board a plane. As he was getting on the plane, he heard his name being called out by his commanding officer, telling him he was being taken off the mission and replaced by another man. The plane took off, but never came back. All aboard were killed. He didn't have to say anything else. God had a plan for my life before I was born.

I still miss that hand on my shoulder. I love you, Dad. We’ll meet again in the arms of Jesus.